What is Aquaponics?
Fresh Food and Fresh Fish
Aquaponics can be a daunting experience at first. There is much to learn in the art of cultivating aqualife and growing vegetables indoors. Let us first begin to understand what it is to have an aquaponic garden.
How does an aquaponic garden work?
There are usually two holding containers in an aquaponic system, a pump, a filter, some tubes and perhaps lighting. Aquaponics borrows from a hydroponic system (the technique of not using any soil), but unlike hydroponic methods, an aquaponic method does not use harsh chemicals to fertilize the plant. Instead, fish or other fresh water animals are used to fertilize the roots of the plant with the aquatic waste. Waste from a fish has enormous nutritional value to a growing plant and in return the plant filters the “dirty” water! This amazing symbiotic relationship is sustainable and, more importantly, it’s just plain cool.
If you are starting out in aquaponics, I recommend you try a smaller system then move up to a larger one. Here is one I recently found online and I think it is adorable.
What aquatic creature you are going to raise in your tank?
Experiment with the best types of fish and vegetables you can use with the output of waste your fish produce. You will find some plants and some fish will thrive better than others. Generally, leafy vegetables such as lettuce do the best in aquaponic systems, and freshwater fish are almost always used. Supposedly, there are some plants (e.g. seaweed) that can tolerate salt water, but I suggest you do lots of research before you give that project a go.
Here is a fun fact about salt: salt kills weeds, and everything else in the area. The ancient Romans routinely salted the lands of their conquered enemies. They so heavily salted the ground around Carthage that the area is still desert.
Fresh Water Marine Life
**Check with your state before buying fish as some are considered invasive species!**
Large mouth Bass
If you don’t want to eat the fish you could raise ornamental fish instead!
*These plants demand more nutrition and will do well in a heavily stocked, well established aquaponic system.
Building Your Aquaponic System
You’ve picked out the fish, decided on which plants to grow, and now you are ready to put your system together. Yay! What will you need exactly?
As I mention briefly above, you’ll need two or more holding containers. One for your fish and another for the plant beds. I have seen several systems which use two smaller containers for plant beds and others which use one plant bed container. Aquaponic systems are very customizable leading to some really neat looking designs.
There are several already made kits. All you need are the fish and seeds! Some may require you to purchase additional items such as a pump, pipes, lights and water testing strips. Better read the fine print when buying a system. Remember as your operation gets bigger, so does the price tag. Start with something manageable and work your way up and you will be growing your dinner in no time.
Each plant bed needs a soil medium. This helps support the roots of the plants as they grow. Having the plants in a separate grow bed also protects their roots from the fish.
Common Aquaponic Soil Mediums
The pump is one of the most important items in your aquaponic garden. The type of wattage your pump needs depends on the height and the size of your tank. As a rule of thumb, you want your tank to pump twice an hour or once every two hours for hobby growers.
Head height is the height the water must travel from the fish tank to the plant bed. When you purchase a pump, the gallons per hour (GPH) is based on a head height of zero. You may think you have gotten an efficient pump until you realize you didn’t take the head into consideration. The higher the water needs to go, the more power you need, but also account for the solids which need to pass through the pipes in order to fertilize your plant bed. You may want to overcompensate by 20% to 30% once you’ve calculated the head height. Usually a chart on the manufacturer’s box will tell you the GPH based on different head heights.
PVC and CPVC pipes are often used because they don’t rust, they are inexpensive and they are food safe.
Hydroponic and Aquaponic Lighting Systems
Bulb life (HRS)
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There are countless websites and books about aquaponics. I encourage you to explore, join forums and ask questions. Make sure you have your design plans thought out before you invest your time into this hobby. Remember to start small and grow into your aquaponic garden. Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and the Aztecs practiced aquaponics to grow food, and with patience you will find a rewarding way to grow your food too.